You use the word “stupid” a lot in the Fudge books. A lot a lot. Like several hundred percent more then we use at our house. And as a mindful (sometimes accidentally self-righteous) mother, I try to make sure that we shop for our vocabulary in only the finest, freshest family books. So when I started reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to my 5YO and 8YO I found myself almost instantly editing as I went. I justified that this was okay because 1) Peter was older than my girls, 2) he was a boy, and not technically real 3) he lived in NYC, and as a Jersey girl transplanted in the DC area, I’m fully aware that Northern vocabulary is somewhat harsher than it is here in the hidden-behind-super-manners-not-quite South.
Unfortunately, in my zeal for “clean” stories I’d forgotten that my 8YO can also read.
8YO: (whispering): “Mama, you skipped a word.”
ME: “Uhhhh…hold on, let me just finish this chapter.”
8YO: “Why do you keep skipping the word ‘stu–’”
5YO: “You’re skipping words? What words?”
8YO: “She’s skipping ‘stu–’”
ME: “We’ll talk about it when we get to the end of the chapter…”
I kept going. I’ve never seen my 5YO try so hard to read, or my 8YO so intent on policing my progress. Then I sensed it. The next “stupid.” My 8YO spotted it at the same time and turned to me. Right then and there I decided to read the word. All six letters of it, and like I really meant it. Partially because it would be a bigger deal if I didn’t, and also because these were your words, not mine. You were the writer I’d trusted most growing up, why on earth wouldn’t I trust you with my kids? What was I afraid of, really?
My girls burst forth into rapid conversation the moment I put a period at the end of the “stupid” sentence. I learned some interesting things. Kids in preschool call each other stupid a lot when their teachers aren’t listening and my 5YO regularly comforts them because she knows the word isn’t nice. My 8YO thinks the word a lot, even though she doesn’t say it, and often feels really bad about it, but doesn’t know what to do with how she feels. And they learned that I was once a girl who used the word liberally, loudly and still occasionally have to apologize for it, even now as an adult. Since then each girl has taken me aside to share moments when they want to call each other stupid, but tell me about it instead, because they know I understand how they’re feeling.
Somehow in my quest to make sure that my daughters were fed only the choicest vocabulary I’d forgotten that they were kids. Which is ridiculous, given that I share a house with them, comfort them, and occasionally hide from them when I need a break from being their mom. My refusing to acknowledge the word “stupid” didn’t make the word go away. It just made them feel guilty for thinking it, and unprepared for what to do with that feeling. When had I become such a verbal prude? And if I couldn’t have open discussions with them about something as simple as the word “stupid” how would we ever get through the really hard things, like sex and love and hate? Thank you for helping me remember, and for opening up an unexpected way for me to communicate and laugh with my daughters.
Because really, Uncle Feather vs. Mrs. Hildebrandt? Best use of the word “stupid” ever.
All my love,
©2013 CEK. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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